***AUTHORS NOTE: this is an article I wrote about 2 to 3 years ago on behalf of an environmentally friendly t-shirt company that never made it past prototyping, so I thought I’d share it here.***
Microplastics is one of those topics that seems to really have only become an issue in recent months, but that just isn’t the case. National Geographic put out a video on YouTube back in October of 2015 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHCgA-n5wRw) warning us of the damages these microplastics were causing. One of the huge concerns about microplastics are their effects on marine life. Over 80% of waste that ends up in the ocean originates on-land. But we don’t realise how much of a problem they cause because we don’t see them every day, out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes!
Image source: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
However, programmes such as Blue Planet 2, and organisations such as PETA have really brought light to the issues recently, but the question you might be asking is “But why should I care?” and that’s a fair question, why should you care? Why should you care that over 300 species of animals, just that we know of, have ingested this pollutant? Why should you care that animals are passing this pollutant, that is detrimental to human health, up the food chain?
Well let’s take a look at the facts, according to an article released in 2017 (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(17)30121-3/fulltext), “As of 2015, 6,300 million tonnes of plastic waste have been generated, around 9% of which was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% ended up in landfills or the environment.” 79% ended up in the environment, 79% of 6300 million tonnes is 4,997 million tonnes of land waste! 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enter our oceans, each and every year! And the problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade, they take four hundred years to decompose (Bakelite, the first plastic based on a synthetic polymer, was only created in 1907! A lot less than 400 years ago), they break down, smaller and smaller, into these microplastics, and then they get eaten, a study found that European consumers can expect to ingest eleven thousand plastic particles a year just from eating shellfish alone! The problem extends even further than sea food too, a study found microplastics inside the grains of salt from sixteen different companies across eight countries. It hardly even warrants talking about where we find these plastic particles, they’re now even in the air we breath on a daily basis!
So, to answer your questions about why you should care, these plastics can kill you (or cause serious harm in trying). Particle, chemical, and microbial hazards are all massive issues, and we speculate from past research that microplastics present all these problems!
Particle toxicity is where you get a build up of these particles inside your body, and that localised mass causes an immune response, and your body can’t do a lot to fight it… Chemical toxicity is one of the main concerns, plastics contain things that just shouldn’t really be inside the human body, and when you mix that with the excretion of deadly pollutants the plastics have picked up from the environment, you start to see where the big issues lie. (I’ll leave this video link here with an excellent explanation of the problem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFgpudNSArI).